As of this writing, the biographical section of this author’s personal website begins with an inaccuracy that can be easily forgiven. He just hasn’t updated it yet. That’s okay, glass houses and all. But what about all the students interested in topics like this, at places like Brown and Cornell, who want to figure out how one becomes Charles C. Mann? We learn a bit about the initial C in his name, but not about how he got interested in this topic, he prepared to research it, write it, etc. That’s okay too.
He brings light to so many topics that we take for granted, even those of us studying some of these topics–do you picture the local population of what is now North America, pre-Columbus, riding horses?–that we can be thankful that he has been busy at researching and writing this book, and less busy explaining to us how he learned to do such work. Just this passage should get you thinking:
Newspapers usually describe globalization in purely economic terms, but it is also a biological phenomenon; indeed, from a long-term perspective it may be primarily a biological phenomenon. Two hundred and fifty million years ago the world contained a single landmass known to scientists as Pangaea. Geological forces broke up this vast expanse, splitting Eurasia and the Americas. Over time the two divided halves of Pangaea developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Before Colón a few venturesome land creatures had crossed the oceans and established themselves on the other side. Most were insects and birds, as one would expect, but the list also includes, surprisingly, a few farm species—bottle gourds, coconuts, sweet potatoes—the subject today of scholarly head-scratching. Otherwise, the world was sliced into separate ecological domains. Colón’s signal accomplishment was, in the phrase of historian Alfred W. Crosby, to reknit the seams of Pangaea. After 1492 the world’s ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian Exchange, as Crosby called it, is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in the United States, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand. To ecologists, the Columbian Exchange is arguably the most important event since the death of the dinosaurs.